scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Rail Users Group - Issues for Consideration
by HITRANS RAG Meeting

Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Church Street, Inverness, Tuesday 3 March 2009

1. Update on HITRANS studies on Highland Mainline and Inverness - Aberdeen line.
Highland Mainline rail improvements have been identified both within STPR and HLOS (Tier 3) with the aim to improve rail network capacity for passengers and freight between Inverness and Perth and to reduce journey times between Inverness and the Central Belt. Studies within the rail industry are at a GRIP 3 stage and the current timescale is to have the work complete by 2012.
Rail improvements between Inverness and Aberdeen have been identified both within STPR and HLOS (Tier 3) with the aim to reduce journey times and increase the frequency of service. Studies within the rail industry are not as advanced as the rail improvements package for the Highland Mainline and the current timescale is to have the work complete by 2016.

2. Update on priority to rail improvements projects in the Highlands compared to the Central Belt.
The STPR identified 29 major packages of work. Within the STPR framework, priority has so far been given to four projects:

  1. Forth Replacement Crossing
  2. Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements
  3. Highland mainline rail improvements
  4. Rail improvements between Aberdeen and Inverness
Prioritisation on the remaining projects shall depend upon the benefits they offer, the contribution they make to Government objectives and the future funding that is available.

3. Update on progress to stations at Conon and Dalcross.
Highland Council is about to engage Network Rail to take the Conon station project to ready to go to tender stage. No capital funds have yet been allocated. The station could be built and open for passengers by 2010. A station at Dalcross forms part of the rail improvements between Inverness and Aberdeen and as such the timescale is to have the station complete by 2016.

4. As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of Class 158s can options be considered for a future 'rural train'.
The Rolling Stock Procurement Team at Transport Scotland has placed an order for 38 new Class 380 trains providing 130 new carriages to operate on Ayrshire, Inverclyde and North Berwick routes. The Class 334 trains currently operating on Ayrshire and Inverclyde routes shall be cascaded to Airdrie - Bathgate route and to improve capacity on other routes within Central Scotland. This shall take place during 2010/11.
The next tranche of new trains is part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements project to provide electric trains when the E&G is electrified by 2016. This could result in a cascade of Class 170s for other routes, including the Highlands and consideration to other rolling stock e.g. Class 172s. However, planning on future cascades/new trains pending the electrification of the E&G is at an early stage.

5. Current position and thinking on a replacement for RETB on the North Highland lines.
The RETB refurbishment programme running over the next two years will deliver the following:

The above will underpin the reliability of the system for a minimum of ten years and progressively improve radio reception across the Far North lines. Longer term the trials of ERTMS shall dictate the thinking on a replacement.

6. With more services operating on the North Highland lines what is the current status regarding the provision of a loop at Lentran as a priority to improve performance.
This specific project is not included within the HLOS or STPR. Funding would need to be made available by HITRANS to deliver this project.

7. Line closures during tourist seasons. Advance notice and consultation from Network Rail. Line closures to be avoided if at all possible and all works to be undertaken outwith tourist season.
It is considered by the rail industry that line closures are best at holiday periods e.g. Bank Holidays as fewer people are travelling. However, it is recognised that this one-size-fits-all policy may not be fully appropriate as some lines are more dependent on leisure travel than commuters. This is an issue to take forward with all rail industry stakeholders to consider further. It was agreed that advance notice on planned engineering work should be timely.

8. Concern at the publicly stated priorities of HITRANS aimed at the West Coast of the Highlands and Inner Moray Firth development, as the Director, Dave Duthie, made clear in the recent Strategic Transport Projects Review conference and their implications for Caithness and North Sutherland. It is important that HITRANS and the RAG recognises and supports the priorities for developing and expanding Caithness and North Sutherland. Support must in particular be given to capacity improvements on the existing Far North Line to accommodate more freight train traffic, passenger and freight journey time reductions and also due support and credence to the work our Group has undertaken to make the case for big upgrades to the Far North Line, including the Dornoch Rail Link.
HITRANS has demonstrated its commitment to Caithness and North Sutherland by initiating the North Highland recast. HITRANS are in the process of commissioning further work on loop entry/exit speeds and level crossings. The route was considered by STPR and included in references to signalling upgrades etc. More major upgrades including the Dornoch Bridge have been rejected. Currently there is no freight north of Lairg and so no requirement to increase capacity.

9. Many people have complained vigorously about the lack of heating especially on the early trains from Thurso, and this is after a reasonable length of run from Wick. We would ask that First ScotRail improves the heating reliability on the trains concerned. Concern over press reports mentioning that heating shall be improved in very cold conditions.
The above issue raised with ScotRail which they shall respond to.

10. With regard to the electrification commitments for the Scottish railway network, we would suggest that full use is made of the renewable energy potential in the Highlands from wind, wave and hydro sources for electrifying the Far North Line, Kyle Line and West Highland Line. This would help reinforce the case for electrification of these lines as well as trunk lines elsewhere in Scotland.
The HLOS and STPR recognise that currently only 23% of the Scottish rail network is electrified and the aim is to work towards creating an electrified rail network across Scotland to reduce journey times, operating cost and emissions. As this is a large scale project with a number of phases it is unlikely that electrification of the Far North, Kyle and West Highland lines would happen within the timeframe of the current STPR.

11. Update on additional Oban train services.
The Oban 5 project has not received Transport Scotland support as it does not fit in with STPR priorities. HITRANS will look for innovative funding mechanisms for service enhancements that HITRANS would then lobby for inclusion in the third ScotRail franchise in 2014.

12. Formal timely process to ensure RUGs has time to make considered input into RAG meetings.
It was agreed that a process is required and that proposals would be put to the RUGs for consideration at the next meeting to take place in Arisaig.